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Column: Aching for the days when neighbors knew each other
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

I don’t know if kids today count down to the end of school.

I know that we did when I was in grade school. We would begin counting down the days to spring break.

Unlike today, we didn’t go on anything resembling a vacation. By the time we really had time to think about it, we would generally stay home and keep busy all day long.

I had a go-kart with a Briggs and Stratton engine. Steve Shepherd, who lived down the street also had one. They also had a little pasture in their backyard. We would drive an oval around the fenceline.

Our front yard had two rows of big trees. Between big roots and negotiating around the trees, it was challenging, but not as fast as Shepherd’s.

Sometimes during spring break, somebody might take us fishing. One year, we got to go to an afternoon Braves game. We had a big time.

When we came back from spring break, we began talking about what we would do this summer. When I was in fifth grade, our county 4-H agent encouraged me to go to 4-H camp. This one was held at Camp Chatham in Savannah, the home of salty water and ample mosquitoes. 

Whitely Butler, the Hall County agent, came and taught us to do the “Salty Dog Rag,” which was a line dance set to song by Red Foley.

All I remember was a lot of moves that involved a step behind and kick.

I was at the age that I was starting to take notice of girls. I remember my first slow dance with a girl from somewhere else. We danced to a  song by a new group called the Carpenters. It’s been a little while.

The thing I remember consistently about summer is that we went outside after breakfast and didn’t come in until suppertime. We usually would go up to Mr. Jim Paul Shepherd’s gas station and buy a Coke. They were a dime and eventually went to 15 cents.

We played outside all day long doing something. The only time we might go inside would be on a day we had a summer shower. There were plenty of cartoons on TV, and this was long before cable TV.

Somehow, among all the fun, I would find time to participate in the summer reading program. From the time I was old enough to read, I would read the required number of books.

I think there was something healthy about playing outside. Until I reached the age that I started spending more time inside, I never had an allergy of any kind. It was about then I started getting all kinds of hacking and sneezing.

The trouble is now we are scared to send our children outside. We are afraid that everybody that walks down our street is a bad guy.

Places like downtown or shopping malls were an oasis for young people. Now, some of them are considered to be danger zones. If you heard the word “mall” on TV, you’re just about to hear the words “robbery,” “fight,” “gun” or “knife” in the same sentence. We are scared of each other and sometimes that’s justified. We often don’t know our neighbors and we feel that inside is the only place we are safe.

I long for the days when we walked up and down the sidewalks to see our neighbors or go downtown and get an ice cream. 

Sadly, that may forever be just a memory for those of a certain age.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns publish weekly.